Why do we live here?! Winter in Minnesota is an endurance test, not just physically but psychologically. The best strategy for getting through the winter that I have found, besides a down parka with a cold temperature rating between -(ass-biting)º and -(life-threatening)º and some waterproof Sorels, is a strategy we mothers were instructed to use to break up children’s fights: distraction.
After all, what is winter but the classic fight known as “man vs. nature”? And my nature is obsessive. I get stuck on things, much like Sophie’s Ford Focus gets stuck in the snow piled up at the end of the driveway. So to plow through this feeling of stuckness caused by the deadness of winter, I distract myself by looking forward.
Distractions can be found through travel and even I–the homebody–have some exciting travel plans during the next two months. But for those of us on somewhat of a budget (which is why I’m still here, instead of wintering on Riviera Maya), there’s always time travel. I’m not talking about actual time travel, involving time machines or other sci-fi contraptions, I’m talking about the lowest-tech version, consisting of looking forward to things on the horizon as spring approaches.
In four weeks, I will be attending “the largest literary conference in North America”, the annual AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference and Bookfair. This year’s conference is being held in Seattle, and is intended, according to the AWP website, “…to celebrate the authors, teachers, students, writing programs, literary centers, and publishers of that region. More than 12,000 writers and readers attended our 2013 conference, and over 650 exhibitors were represented at our bookfair.” Though the Pacific Northwest, like London, is not known for it’s cheery weather, a change of scenery always helps. But the conference itself is a sunny, happy place for writers.
I attended my first and only AWP Conference in Chicago two winters ago. By the end of the first, jammed-packed day of the 3-day conference, I broke down in tears. I was overwhelmed with not only information, but also emotion. It was the same feeling I had as a young Jew traveling to Israel for the first time and hearing Hatikvah (Israel’s national anthem) as the plane touched down: I belong here. These are my people.
So much of the time I feel like an oddity. As a writer, I sit alone in silence for hours at a time, coming in contact with few who do, or care about, what I do. When people ask me these days,
“What do you do?” I’m starting to summon up all my chutzpah and answer,
“I’m a writer.”
People are momentarily intrigued, but after about 30 seconds, they can’t think of a darn thing to say to me about my newly emerging occupation/identity.
Sophie and Howie will be home alone together while I head out west to mine for literary gold. “Alone together” sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Sophie has become quite reclusive, as of late.
My ordinarily sociable daughter seems to be pulling away not only from us, but also from other people and things with which she used to be quite engaged. She’s not depressed, and she’s not in any kind of trouble.
When I look at my own description of myself, from above, I see some possible clues to her detachment.
Our endurance is being tested right now, both physically and psychologically. We’re stuck in winter, and not feeling close enough to spring. And Sophie and I are still somewhat stuck in identities we’re outgrowing, while our new ones feel just out of reach.
As a senior in her second semester, she’s all but abandoned high school, yet hasn’t firmed up her plans for next year. She’s leaning toward the University of Kansas (KU), but hasn’t heard from the U of M yet. The future is beckoning, but the bridge between here and there is under construction.
It’s making her a little cranky.
Last night, I went down to say goodnight as usual.
“Don’t talk to me. Bring me water. And food. And clean my room.” at this point, even she started laughing. Then she straightened up,
“Wow!” I said. “I’m going to put that in the blog”
“Get me the water and you can do whatever you want.”
I don’t usually use defaming her in my blog as emotional blackmail. And I do ask for her permission on all quotes before posting.
The point is, I chalk up (or Rock Chalk, a KU Jayhawk reference, just trying it out) this ornery behavior to Sophie’s own feeling of stuckness. We’ve discussed stuckness before, but being stuck in one of the coldest, snowiest winters in Minnesota’s history, does nothing to brighten our moods.
As spring approaches, Sophie will make decisions about her future that I hope will land her in a place where she’ll say, I belong here. These are my people.
The other spring fling Sophie and I have on the horizon is our spring break trip to Paris. This trip is an embarrassment of riches for me; a trip to France, and a week alone (with limited cell phone use for Sophie?!) with my baby. So another thing we’ll use to distract ourselves is planning our itinerary, watching Frenchie movies (her favorite is Amelie; she’s even learning a piano piece from the soundtrack) and counting down the weeks.
A feeling of being stuck can be eased by working toward where we want to go; both where we want to travel, physically, and who we want to become.
Sometimes, we need to employ the strategy of distraction while we are waiting to travel or become! For instance, I’ve been working on a piece about yoga all this week (which is why I’m just posting today). The yoga piece is one I’m submitting elsewhere, with hopes of publication. My hopes for its acceptance are so high, I will have to distract myself for the rest of this month while I wait to hear my fate, by working on revising my thesis, choosing the courses I will take at AWP and designing new classes I’ve been invited to teach this spring for The Loft.
But I digress. The reason I mentioned the yoga piece is that, while working on it, I was reminded of the importance of staying in the present moment that is so fundamental to yoga and other mindfulness practices. This post, on looking forward as a coping strategy for stuckness, seems to fly in the face of staying present. It also flies in the face of the intention I set for my mothering this year, that I’m chronicling in this blog.
In other words, how do we stay in the present moment–how do we honor, appreciate and savor it–if the present moment sucks a little bit (i.e. wintery weather, becoming instead of fully being)? Or is there a way to fully live in the present, while also being energized by looking forward to future events and developments?
Try this; look out the window. Notice the sunshine, and how it makes all this damn snow sparkle like Taylor Swift’s gown at the Grammy’s last Sunday. Realize today’s the last day of January, and we’ve already picked up an hour of daylight this past month. Know that we’re never as stuck as we may feel. There’s always something to look forward to. If you can’t see it, use this present moment to make it so.
That should distract you, for the moment, at least.